Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water.
The great company of Israelites tramped across a dry path through the Red Sea. Even the soles of their sandals were dry—no mud because God’s breath dried even the sludge of their highway. Safely on the far bank this great company watched the mighty army of Egypt collapse as the weight of the water fell. They watched as the rent water veil now closed.
But they forgot.
They entered the desert and the heat waves began to undulate and rise before them. Their tongues grew dry and stuck to the roofs of their mouths, and their bellies growled and rumbled in hunger. Listen, when people get hungry they forget. And the filters and curbs that usually provide barriers between the thoughts in their minds and the audible words on their tongues disintegrate. They forget everything except the instinctual and habitual need to assuage that hunger (Ask Esau. Also, hunger is not limited to food. No. It includes addictions and obsessions).
The once enslaved men, women and children arrived at the waters of Marah—bitter waters. Waters reflecting their attitudes and perspectives. In the midst of great blessing and the miraculous the attitudes of their hearts turned bitter. Complaints and ingratitude seeped out—poisonous just like the waters they encountered. Bitter waters. Waters that would burn their throats when swallowed. Waters that would make their stomachs cramp and their muscles seize.
Undrinkable water. For beast or man.
And they forgot. It seems every last one of them forgot.
Forgotten was the power of this God who had just brought them out of Egypt on the tails of plagues and wonders never before seen. Brought them out of Egypt despite the resistance of the stubborn Pharaoh. Brought them out of Egypt rich—treasures handed to them on silver platters.
But they forgot. They did not remember that if this God could do all this then surely he could take care of bitter water. Surely he could provide the very necessity of life.
God did provide. He told Moses to do the ridiculous. He instructed Moses to throw wood into the water. The wood was not magical. It was obedience that pleased God; the obedience of one man aided a nation. God cleansed the water for the Israelites so they might drink—so their thirst might be quenched.
Then God tested them.
God said, if you will listen to me and do right, if you will pay attention to me and abide by my commands then disease will not plague you as it did the Egyptians. Because you see, I am the God who heals. I am Jehovah-rapha.
Often we want the benefits, but we don’t want the responsibility. We want the healing, but we don’t want the accountability.
God always heals. Healing is part of the provision of his character. In his provision there is always a measure of healing.
Then the Israelites traveled. That great multitude crawled and inched across the blistering sands of that peninsula. From high above the birds of prey flew, circling. The hyenas waited in the shade, resting. The lions lay among the desert shrubs, slumbering.
Little did the Israelites know.
And they arrived at Elim.
Seventy palms and twelve wells. A place of luscious abundance. A place of lavish grace.
They arrived at the place God had prepared for them.
Even back in Marah when they wailed and whined God knew their route would take them through Elim. When they spit the bitter waters out in a spew of fury and complaint against Moses and the great I AM God knew Elim lay nestled like a jewel in the rolling sand dunes. When they accused Him of the inexcusable: saving them only that they might die, he knew Elim had been prepared. When they acted like entitled snots demanding and exacting what they thought they needed, God already had Elim ready.
Seventy palms. Seventy—a sacred number to the Jewish nation. Seventy members of Jacob’s family traveled to Egypt. Seventy elders joined Moses on the mountain to eat with God. Seventy.
There need be no fear of the sun’s harsh glare for they would rest in the shade of seventy palms.
There need be no worry for lack of water for they would drink from one of the twelve wells. Sweet water. A well for every tribe. Enough. There would be no concern about the depletion of water. No worry and bickering about rationing.
This was a prepared place of abundance.
Scripture tells us they stayed there for a while. How long? We do not know. But long enough.
It is always perfect. Always right. Always timely. Always abundant. Always complete.
Sometimes we are held up on the banks of Marah. Bitter waters are in our cup. And we are choking the foul stuff down our already raw throats. And complaints slather our tongue. And whining and grumbling coats our hearts. And the dregs catch in our teeth.
Sometimes we are camped on these shores, but Elim is on the route ahead. Somewhere down the road, across the desert, across the dunes seventy palms and twelve wells have been prepared for us.
The waters may be bitter now. The sun may be glaring hot. But we need to trust the character of God.